Home International Clinton, Obama battle for delegates in “Potomac Primary”

Clinton, Obama battle for delegates in “Potomac Primary”

By Ronald Baygents, KUNA

Washington : As the US presidential election process turns to the regional “Potomac Primary” on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue their neck-and-neck fight for enough delegates to secure the Democratic Party nomination this summer.

For Republican front-runner John McCain, the contest for his party’s nomination is as good as over with last week’s decision by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to suspend his campaign.

Arizona Senator McCain, a political maverick popular with independents and moderates, faces a different task: winning over the support of conservative Republicans who form the base of the Republican Party and who largely have preferred Romney or former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

The next primaries take place on Tuesday in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. — nicknamed the “Potomac Primary” for the river that borders the two states and the District of Columbia, the US capital.

Primaries are votes within each political party to decide who will be the candidate representing the party in the general election in early November. During a primary, voters cast their ballot for a particular candidate.

Primaries are run with secret ballots and strict rules under state law. Voters may or may not be limited in what they may vote for.

Some states restrict voters to candidates from their declared party, while others do not. For example, New Hampshire, site of the first US presidential primary each year, has an “open primary” where registered Democratic or Republican voters may cross party lines and vote for either the Democratic or Republican slate or an independent.

One reason for the complexity of the US presidential election process is that each state sets its own rules for its primary.

When a voter casts a ballot in a primary, the voter is actually selecting delegates to attend the party convention and vote for the candidate the voter chose.

Each state is given a number of delegates proportional to its population, and each state has its own method of choosing delegates. Generally, you have to be a part of the party organization and pledge support for only one of the candidates.

Some states give all their delegates to the winner, some break them down by districts, and others dole them out depending on the percentage of the total vote each candidate receives.

Democrats use a higher ratio for delegate apportionment than the Republicans, which means Democrats have more delegates overall. The Republican nominee needs 1,191 delegates, the Democratic nominee 2,025.

In a variety of smaller US states, caucuses are held instead of primaries — the best example being the Iowa caucus, which kicks off the US presidential election process every four years. A caucus is a private meeting of members of a political party to select delegates for the nominating convention.

During a caucus, political party activists show up at a party meeting and decide, by whatever system they want to use, who their choice is.

A caucus is more of a party affair. Members gather, hear speeches, and engage in discussion before voting for a candidate. But the great majority of delegates are selected in primaries.

Delegates from each state meet at each party’s political convention in late summer to vote for the candidate they represent. They have a big party, wear hats, and hold up signs on the convention floor, mostly indicating their candidate of choice.

The delegates determined in the primaries and caucuses are committed to vote for their candidate only on the first ballot at the convention. After that, they can vote for anyone.

Beyond delegates awarded on the basis of primary and caucus results, there is another category known as “super-delegates” — party officials, members of Congress, governors, and others — who automatically have voting status at the conventions and are not bound by the results of contests in their states in deciding whom to support.

The conventions are effectively over when one candidate gets over half of the total national delegates, which gives him, or her, a majority at the convention.

This year the Democratic Convention takes place in late August in Denver, Colorado, while the Republican Convention takes place in St. Paul, Minnesota, in early September. At the convention, the party delegates also write the official party platform.

The whole US delegate system was intended to replace the “smoke-filled rooms” where powerful members of the party secretly chose a candidate. The US Constitution does not talk about how party nominees are chosen, so every party can decide for themselves.

Smoke-filled rooms and secret processes are perfectly legal, but the current primary process has proven more popular among US voters.